Trash Bandits

TB Title

Trash Bandits

by Zeb Carbaugh

November 30th, 2019

A Christmas present for my Nen

Part 1 – The Old Ways

Full moons are a blessing and a curse. On one paw, a full moon night makes for some appealing scenery, but on the other paw it leaves you wide open to predators. Gathering food is always a rush job on a night like this. In the past I’ve watched the gatherers do it plenty of times before, but every time I see them in action it gets my heart racing. This time it’s different. Tonight, we don’t just watch from the safety of the tree. Tonight, my buddy Brox and I join the ranks of the others to gather food by the creek. Tonight, my heart isn’t just racing, it’s practically bursting out of my chest with excitement!

Brox and I peek our heads out of the tree hole. Crawling out into the moonlight we leave our worried moms and the younglings behind. My lungs fill with the cool mountain air and I hear a familiar voice.

“To the ground,” it says in hushed way. The command comes from the raggedy old coon with a long scar running down his skull named Snikt. No rock will be over turned, and no grub harvested tonight without Snikt’s say-so. That is how things go for just about everything our clan does. Snikt is the head honcho and I think he likes it that way a little too much.

The second Snikt’s words pass his fangs we all scurry down the trees wetting our paws in the dewy grass below. “To the river,” Snikt whispers to the rest of the gatherers. He turns back towards Brox and me. “You two young cubs stay close behind me.”

Brox and I follow his orders. Our role is that of spectators more than gatherers. This being our first night on the job it makes sense he would try and baby us. I am stone cold bored out of my mind. I feel the urge to join in on the action, but Snikt keeps a close eye on Brox and me.

“Stay behind me boys and watch how it’s done,” Snikt lectures us as he wets his paws in the creek. I am no stranger to how the gatherers procure food from the creek but watching it up close is a different experience from watching from the trees.

Another raccoon close to us lifts a rock to search for crayfish causing the familiar slurping sound of the river mud and sediment detaching from the bottom of the rock. I watch as he reaches underneath the rock to pull out whatever tasty morsel is lurking there. All the sudden a twig snaps in the trees to our left, a different direction from the rest of our clan. All the raccoons gathering food stop what they are doing to listen for any other signs of danger coming from the woods.

We hear another twig snapping that’s followed by a large branch breaking. A few raccoons start to fidget as tensions grow amongst the clan of gatherers. Snikt opens his jaws to give another hushed command, but before the words escape his mouth the trees start to shake violently as a bear comes crashing out of the woods.

The bear makes a lumbering sprint towards our clan of raccoons gathering food by the creek. He is a young bear and he has a temper. He bellows as he runs “Scram you little pests! This is my territory now!”

The entire clan turns away from the creek and starts to scurry towards the tree line. There is no other option when facing an angry bear. Snikt leads Brox and me on the safest route away from the bear’s fury, but some of the other raccoons come much too close to his swinging paws. A coon to our right catches just the edge of the bear’s swing. He cries out in agony, but still manages to escape with his life.

Satisfied that he’s gotten his message across, the bear slows his pursuit. “Do not return here coons or you will be my next meal!” he gives as a final warning.

Us gatherers reach the tree home and meet up with the rest of the clan. Another seasoned food gatherer is carrying the wounded coon not too far behind us. The mothers of the clan come out from their tree holes to tend to his wounds. The clan is shaken up by this latest bear attack. Some of the mothers are scolding Snikt for allowing such a run-in with a young bear.

One of the mothers starts to lay into our clan’s cautious leader. “How could this happen Snikt? You take precaution after precaution, yet it seems every night you’re scampering back home with another wounded coon at your heels!”

Another mother shares her concerns, “This life style is dwindling our numbers and weakening our clan.” She offers a solution, “We didn’t have nearly as many injuries or attacks when we scavenged food from the humans. We should go back to taking the food they leave at the edge of their dens.”

Snikt does not like her proposition. He turns his head towards her, showing his badly scarred face to the entire clan in the full moonlight. Pointing his paw to the scar he says, “This is what happens when we get near humans!”

I am too young to remember the days of our clan gathering food from the humans, but I’m told from the other coons that they were the good days. The humans left out more than enough food at the edge of their dens frequently. They tell me the only reason our clan went back to the forest, back to the old ways, is because of Snikt.

Brox told me what his mother told him one night. “I’m telling you Rocco, my mom says Snikt didn’t always have a stick up his butt. She says before Snikt was the leader, before he got that nasty scar up the left side of his face and ear, he was really friendly. He loved to watch the humans.”

Brox continued telling his rumored story. “One-night Snikt convinced a bunch of the other gatherers to follow him to where the humans like to play loud music and drink out of bottles. He wanted to scavenge a dumpster full of food. Some of the humans saw Snikt climb into the dumpster and started to attack him. A couple of the other humans started to throw the bottles at every raccoon they could find. Snikt got hit on the face, and that is how he got his scar. He’s hated humans ever since.”

Snikt continues to voice his fears about the humans to the clan. His voice is filled with fright, “The humans will draw you in with their peculiar way of life. They are the most interesting creatures to observe, but it is not worth quenching your curiosity. They are a vile and hateful lot. They sew destruction with every step.”

One of the respected clan mothers offers Snikt a response, “We are not going to observe them! We are going to live by them. Their perpetual offering of food in their bins is a resource too valuable to ignore. This life is too dangerous for us coons. We must return to the humans.”

Snikt fails to inspire the clan to stay away from the humans. Using the wounded gatherer from that night as evidence to why the clan needs to change, the mothers get Snikt to compromise on scavenging the humans for food.

They decide the clan can go back to the humans for food, but they will start with just gathering food from one human clan. I’m pretty bummed about it. I was hoping I’d get to explore more than just one human den.

They settle on a large human den made of logs on the outskirts of town. It’s relatively large for a human den and this human clan tends to put food out very frequently. I can’t wait to see my first human up close!

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The Clan in the Wild

Part 2 – The Fresh Food Heist

The very next night after the bear attack our clan packs up and moves to the woods behind our designated human den. The gatherers of the clan scope things out to make sure the area is safe. The mothers start fixing up the tree holes. They are very preoccupied.

While the older adults keep busy, I decide I can’t wait any longer. After hearing so much about them, I must see what humans are like. Despite Snikt’s orders to stay within the tree line and to stay off the humans’ short grass, I venture onward to start exploring.

Brox comes along with me. I don’t think he’s nearly as curious as I am, and he is definitely not as brave, but he is a good friend. He is probably telling himself he is keeping me out of trouble by tagging along. No matter why he decided to come with me, I’m glad my pudgy friend did come along. Despite his tepidness, Brox is a great wingman for any kind of adventure.

In the early hours of the night Brox and I make our way to the edge of the forest where the trees meet the humans’ short grass. There is light coming from their den and you can see clearly inside, but we are still too far away to see what they are doing. Brox tries to convince me to stop here, saying we’ve broken enough rules for one night just by going to the edge of the forest. I ignore him and make a break for the bushes right outside the human den.

Reaching the bushes outside I feel mesmerized by the light illuminating from inside. Brox scurries in behind me as I peer up even closer to the light. As I lean closer and closer something touches my nose. I look to see what I’ve bumped in to, but nothing is there. It seems to be invisible. Backing away, I am startled at first, but then lean in again to investigate. It is like a clear sheet of ice shielding the human den from the outside but isn’t nearly as cold as ice. We can’t seem to get past the sheet of ice, but at least Brox and I are able to look through it. We sit outside the human den for the first half of the night watching them from the other side of the different sheets of warm ice around their den.

We count 4 humans and one short haired wolf living inside. Why anyone would want to live with a funny looking wolf is beyond me! Two of the humans are big adults, one mother and one father. Another human is tiny and either sleeps or cries all night. The other human’s size is in between the adults and the new born crying human. She’s a female and my favorite human to watch. The other humans call her Tilly. Watching these humans is just about the most exciting thing to ever happen to me. Brox surely notices me smiling from whisker to whisker.

Brox keeps whining about getting in to trouble with the rest of the clan so I cave, and we go back to our tree dens. It’s not long until daylight comes. The whole clan nestles into bed and no one suspects that Brox and I have already made first contact with the humans. I slept the next day dreaming of the humans and their bizarre way of life.

The next night comes and the clan is already running low on food. Snikt, the coon with by far the most experience with humans, gets all the food gatherers together. After telling Brox and I to stay behind for the first human raid, Snikt debriefs the adult gatherers. He tells them to “be extra cautious around humans, go for the trash cans, and to flee at the first scent or sound of anything suspicious.” Meanwhile Brox and I are making a break for the tree line. We are well aware of the rules of engagement already.

I convince Brox that even though Snikt says to go for the trash cans we are going to hit the big metal box in their middle of the den. The night before we saw the adult male open the metal box in the middle of the night and eat right from inside. When opened, it lights up and shows all of the fresh food the humans eat. While the adult gatherers are busy with the left-over scraps, Brox and I will be making the big score.

Last night I saw the human’s short haired wolf come and go through a small opening at the back of the den. Every time he went through, a sheet of plastic closed the opening behind him. That is how Brox and I will gain entry.

When we get to the tree line, I tell Brox our plan with the small plastic door. He’s hesitant about it but agrees it’s the best option. We both venture onward with the hope of scoring some tasty food, but unlike Brox, I’m also looking forward to getting a look inside the human den.

Brox and I sprint across the short grass surrounding the human den. We reach the small plastic door at the back entrance. I know humans sleep at night so it’s no surprise everything seems quiet. Last night Brox noticed the human’s short haired wolf sleeps on the adult humans’ bed with the door closed, so we should be safe from him.

Peeking my head inside through the plastic door slowly, the smell of human hits my nostrils all at once. Their stench is bizarre and unlike anything I’ve ever smelled in the woods. I cautiously place one paw on the warm stone-like floor. That didn’t seem to rouse any danger, so I proceed to bring in each paw one-by-one until I’m fully standing inside the human den. Nothing but the tip of my striped tail remains outside. Even though I’m terrified by being in this extraordinary place I feel more alive than ever. This is the adventure I was seeking!

After checking to make sure the coast is clear, I turn back to the plastic door to see if Brox has entered yet. As expected, my apprehensive friend is still cowering outside. I try my best to coax him in, “Brox, what are you doing bud? Get in here, I can’t do this without you.”

“I don’t know Rocco, this seems a bit too far. Watching from outside last night was one thing but going INSIDE the human’s den?!” he responds.

Brox is my best friend, but he sure knows how to pick the perfect time to get on my nerves. Tensions are mounting as I argue with Brox at our entry point, “Get your furry butt in here, we’re taking too much time arguing!”

Brox tries to convince me to turn back, “If you think about it, Snikt would never approve of us going inside the human den for any reason. We shouldn’t be here.”

“You have to pick now to voice those concerns?!” I bark back at Brox.

Brox defends his timing by saying “Well you are always so compelling. You make it so hard to say ‘no’ to your ideas. I didn’t realize how stupid this ‘Fresh Food Heist’ of yours was until we got to the door.”

“This is not the time Brox!” I tell him again.

All our arguing must have made quite a racket. I’m known for having a loud voice for a raccoon my age, and in a situation like the one I’m in currently, my voice tends to carry. The thought of grabbing Brox by the paw and dragging him in through the plastic door is coming into my mind when I hear a gasp behind me.

The noise makes my eyes go wide, my hair stands up on my neck, and my butthole clench in anticipating fear. I turn around and see the young female the other humans refer to as Tilly staring at me. She has an astonished look on her face that quickly turns into an excited smile.

For just a moment, all three of us are frozen in our tracks. Tilly is standing now in front of me, grinning and motionless. Brox is behind me, still outside the plastic door and he’s probably shaking with fear. I myself am caught between the two emotions of fear and excitement with the former quickly overtaking the latter. The moment of motionless ends when I hear Brox start to panic.

“Run!” Brox says to me as he makes a break for the tree line. Panic of my own has fully set in and I try to follow my fleeing friend. I’m unable to get any traction on the stone-like floor inside the human’s den and my attempt to escape is futile. My claws are skittering and scattering about in a frantic display.

To my surprise, Tilly reaches down and picks me up. Yet she doesn’t hurt me right away. Instead, she opens the entire back entrance door, walks outside, and carefully places me on the short grass.

“There, there little fella. I’m not going to hurt you,” she whispers to me.

I immediately start looking for Brox. He must have run faster than those pudgy little legs have ever run before, because I spot him looking back at me from the tree line. He looks terrified for both me and himself.

I feel the short blades of grass run through my paws and I follow my initial instinct to run. But something in the back of my mind compels me to stop just a few paces away the human that has just freed me. I turn around to face her. Something in the tone of her voice gives off the feeling that she doesn’t mean me any harm. She even sounds compassionate.

At the sight of me turning around Tilly’s face lights up with joy. She crouches down and holds out her hand toward me. In her outstretched hand is a cookie that smells like peanut butter. Now, I have heard many rumors about human food from my friends in our clan. Cookies are things of pure legend and peanut butter! Peanut butter is thee most coveted form of sustenance. I’m don’t know if this human named Tilly is aware of how valuable this cookie is that she is offering me, but I’m not passing it up.

“Go on little buddy, try my cookie. I made it myself,” she said to me.

One bite into that peanut butter cookie and I am in love. All the fears I am holding towards Tilly just melt away. There is no possible way someone who can make something like a peanut butter cookie, something so filled with love could harbor any ill will towards me.

I am literally eating out of the palm of Tilly’s hand now. I finish her delicious cookie and when I’m done, she does this peculiar gesture of petting me on the head. Here I am thinking the peanut butter cookie was the most loving thing she could do, and then she goes and pets me! Yeah, I’m definitely in love.

Tilly scoops me up into her arms and carries me back in to her den. Then she takes me into her own room of the den and lays down on her bed. We drift off to sleep with me resting in her arms.

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The Human Den

Part 3 – Tilly

Animals are my passion and every day I try to make decisions that reflect that passion, but I never saw myself adopting a raccoon as a pet. Yet I acted impulsively and brought one in to my bed and snuggled with him last night. I just couldn’t help myself. The little guy was so cute and seemed to understand my intentions.

When I saw him huddled up against the doggy door it took us both by surprise. He seemed to be having trouble getting back out the door, so I gave him a hand and took him back outside. While carrying him he didn’t resist or scratch me. Instead, he just relaxed and let me put him down on our yard. I expected him to run back to the forest, and he had started to do so, but then he turned back. I gave him a cookie I snagged from the pantry and he became an instant friend.

Now I’m laying here in bed with him and he’s sleeping in my arms as cute as ever. I can’t even imagine what my parents would say if they found out. As soon as that thought crosses my mind, our dog (a black Labrador named Frigo) comes rushing in to my room. He’s sniffing my bed like crazy. He must be smelling my raccoon friend.

Frigo was surely going to find the little raccoon in my bed given enough time. Fortunately, my dad Frank comes in to tell me he made pancakes and bacon for breakfast. Dad sees Frigo, assumes he is just being nosey, and pulls him away from my bed. Then dad and Frigo leave my room. That was a close call. I’ll be sure to lock my room from now on.

My attention goes back to the small young raccoon in my bed and now he is wide awake. He looks a bit startled from the dog, but I soothe him by petting him. It does the trick. He seems more chipper now.

Looking down at this woodland critter, I ask myself “What am I doing? I brought a dirty, stinky raccoon in to my bed! I must be nuts.” I see the little raccoon react to my words and I wonder if he can understand anything I’m saying. “Yeah, I’m definitely losing my marbles.”

The little raccoon pulls on my pajama shirt sleeve. I ask him “What is it little guy?” Then he gets into a crouching position using only his hind legs and holds out his right paw. I just wait there for a second trying to figure out what he’s doing and then it hits me.

I realize the little bugger was mimicking me from the night before when I gave him a cookie. “You want a cookie?” I ask him.

He responds by jumping up and down and firmly shaking his outstretched paw as if to say “Yes, give me a cookie.”

“Ok buddy, I’ll go get you a cookie from the pantry,” I tell him. Walking out to the pantry I’m thinking to myself, “Did I just have a conversation with a raccoon? Did that raccoon just recognize the word cookie?” This has been the weirdest and most interesting 12 hours in all my 11 years.

“Tilly come have breakfast sweetie. You shouldn’t just have cookies for breakfast,” my mom says as I peek out from behind the pantry door.

“Aww, can’t I? just this one-time mom, please?” I plead to her. “I promise I’ll come back out and have breakfast in just a minute. I just want to have this one cookie in bed before I start the day.”

“Oh, alright honey, you can just this one time, but only because it is Christmas time,” my mother concedes.

“Thanks mom,” I say with a smile. “I’ll be out in a bit.”

Back in my room the little raccoon is bundled up in the blankets on my bed. The sound of me opening the door prompts him to peek his little whiskers out from his makeshift blanket cocoon. Sitting on the bed, I offer him the cookie. He excitedly jumps out from the blankets and carefully takes the cookie from my hand.

The next few days I have off for Christmas vacation. I spend them playing and talking to my little raccoon that I’ve named Rocco after my favorite pizza shop in town. He seems to like the name, and I think it suits him. In these short few days we become quite the pair. Rocco and I play together in my bedroom and out in the woods. There is something beautiful about a young raccoon playing in the woods, in his element.

Things haven’t gone completely bonkers where I’m having full vocal conversations with a small wild animal, but we do communicate with each other. Rocco has learned to recognize a few words like “cookie, Rocco, Tilly, woods, home, pet, play,” and a few more. He can even communicate yes or no with his body language. It amazes me how intelligent he is, and he keeps surprising me.

I know raccoons are nocturnal creatures. I like sleeping at night, and Rocco likes sleeping during the day, but since it is Christmas break, I don’t mind staying up late. Rocco and I are taking naps here and there. We split our time up, mostly by being awake during the day with a nap. Then he wakes me up at night for a few hours.

My parents still haven’t found out about him luckily, but I think Frigo has. Frigo is a good dog, but he doesn’t like having Rocco in the house. He growls at him if he sees him. I think the only reason he hasn’t hurt Rocco is because he senses that I care for him.

Whenever my parents aren’t home or asleep, I let Rocco come and go as he pleases through the doggy door. My parents are usually too busy watching TV to notice a small silent raccoon running around the house.

There are a few times Rocco has visitors come by. A chubby little raccoon that looks about the same age as Rocco will come down and visit him. I watch him from the windows. The chubby one keeps his distance from me. He is a skittish little guy.

Rocco meets his chubby friend and they seem to be happy to see each other. However, they also seem to be in some sort of a heated debate. I try and approach the two raccoons as if I’m a mom keeping her child from a scrap with the neighborhood kids. At the first sight of me, Rocco’s chubby friends flees to the tree line.

After his friend runs away, I stop behind Rocco. I’m afraid I may have upset the two of them. Rocco turns back at me and he’s acting a bit frantic. “I’m sorry Rocco. I didn’t mean to scare your friend away,” I try and comfort him as I pet his head. That does the trick as Rocco is now starting to purr in my arms.

That night while tucking Rocco in to bed, something out the corner of my eye catches my attention. It is a quick movement from outside my bedroom window. I lift the window and peer out to see if anything is there. I only catch the fleeting sight of a striped tail disappear behind the bushes about 10 feet away. I quickly shut the window to keep the cold December air out of my cozy bedroom.

“What did I just see?” I asked myself. “Was that a raccoon at my window?” I wonder silently. I decide it is too late to worry about passing shadows and crawl in to bed next to Rocco.

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Tilly and Rocco

– Part 4 – Midnight Spies

Living with Tilly is a dream come true. I love being fed the best foods humans have to offer, sleeping in the comfiest nest in the world, and being shown so much love from my human companion. I don’t worry about bears or the cold. Brox is my best coon friend, but Tilly is definitely my best human friend.

Tilly and I get along great. We both wash our paws before we eat, love to eat peanut butter cookies, and enjoy playing. I show her the proper way to play in the woods and the snow. She shows me how humans wash their mouths with brushes every night with a very tasty blue ooze. Tilly and I also have fun in the bathtub with all the bubbles.

No matter how hard I try, I can’t seem to teach Tilly how to speak coon. No surprise, humans are TERRIBLE at learning any kind of Woodspeak. I’ve learned quite a bit of what she is talking about in human, but she doesn’t understand a single word that comes out of my fangs. So instead I get my point across by shaking my butt when I want to go outside or pointing to things if they catch my interest. It’s not perfect, but it is the best I can do when I’m working with a human.

Days pass with it being just Tilly and I. I almost forget about my raccoon clan in the woods until Brox shows up outside Tilly’s window one night. Of course, Tilly didn’t notice him because her senses are so dull. I can’t blame her, she is a human after all. But I shake my butt and she takes me outside so I can catch up with my old pal.

“Rocco you’re alive! I’m so glad to see you,” Brox says as he rushes in for a big hug. “I don’t know how you were able to escape, but I’m glad you made it out,” Brox says as he grabs my paw and tries to haul me off to the woods.

I yank my paw away from him, “Stop Brox. I didn’t escape. I like it here. I don’t want to go back to the clan.”

My words make Brox turn and face me. He’s got a suspicious look on his face. “Did they brainwash you? My mom told me about this one time. Humans brain wash coons with a big plastic box they have in the middle of their den. They even brainwash themselves by sitting in front of it all day long. It’s a real thing Rocco.”

“What are you talking about Brox, your mom is full of bear droppings. Humans don’t brainwash coons. That box is just what the adult humans do for fun when they come home. The human named Tilly is my friend. She feeds me peanut butter and everything,” I tell Brox.

“That’s exactly what a brainwashed coon would say. Peanut Butter!? It doesn’t exist Rocco. You’ve become a brain slave to the Man. Let’s go back to the clan. I’m sure Snikt will be able to fix your brain.”

Now Brox is getting on my nerves. “Snikt!? You think Snikt can ‘fix’ me? That old coot is so scared of humans he kept us in the woods far longer than he should have while our gatherers were injured almost every night. I already told you Brox, I’m not coming back to the clan.”

Brox heard how serious my tone was, “Well at least let me come by and check on you every once and awhile to make sure you aren’t brainwashed.”

I told Brox he could check on me as long as he didn’t catch the attention of the adult humans or their short haired wolf, they call Frigo. He may be a bit crazy, but Brox is my best friend. I’m not about to push him away.

Brox and I went back to catching up. I told him about all the fun things Tilly shows me each day. Brox starts to tell me about all the things going on with the clan when his jaw drops open. He let out a gasp and took off for the woods. My instincts kick in and I turn to see what scares my friend half to death, but I fail to notice at all. It was Tilly.

I wonder if she’ll get upset knowing I met another coon. That’s when she scoops me up and pets me. As expected, there is nothing to worry about. Tilly has no problem with me meeting with other coons. Life is good. A few more days go by. Tilly and I are still enjoying each other’s company and now I get to keep up with Brox. I’ve got the best of both worlds.

Tilly and I spend the entire day outside playing in the snow and sliding on the ice. When we come back in for the day, she takes me to the bathtub to get me all warm and scrub me clean. Then she takes me back to her room, wraps me up in her soft blankets, and we doze off for the night. I’m not the biggest fan of sleeping at night, but a coon can get used to just about anything with the right amount of peanut butter and snuggles.

Before getting in to bed that night Tilly spots something out the window. She opens it to see what is lurking outside. I catch a whiff of coon scent coming in to the bedroom with the cold air. It smells like Brox, but he’s with someone else. Tilly gives up trying to find out what is outside and shuts the window, but I’m convinced I’m going to confront them the second she drifts off to sleep.

A few minutes later Tilly is snoring in to her pillow fast asleep. Luckily when she opened the window earlier, she forgot to lock it shut. I carefully crawl out of bed making sure I don’t wake her. Slinking over to the window I pry it open just enough for me to squeeze outside. I leave it open just a crack so I can easily slip back in to Tilly’s bedroom after a few minutes.

“Brox I know you’re out here. I can smell you,” I call out to the howling wind. The night feels very cold on my whiskers. The moonlight is completely drowned out by the large flakes of snow falling from the sky. “Who is with you and why are you sneaking around. You know Tilly won’t hurt you.” A few seconds after I call out for him, Brox comes scampering out from behind a nearby bush. Behind him is another young coon we grew up with named Klaps.

“Hey Rocco, how you doing tonight? You remember Klaps right?” Brox asks me.

Brox is acting strange. Normally he would be asking me if I’ve been brainwashed by the humans’ big glowing box, they call TV. “Yeah, I remember Klaps. His dad and older brother are some of the clan’s best food gatherers,” I respond.

The cold air is getting to me already and the snow is falling so fast it is starting to muffle the sounds of our voices. I move in closer to the two other coons standing in front of me. As Brox and I are talking, Klaps is standing in the snow not saying a word, and he’s looking at me suspiciously. I decide to confront him, “What brings you here Klaps? What’s your deal?”

Klaps raises his paw and points his finger at me. “Me? What are YOU doing HERE?! Living amongst the humans like you are one of them, you have gone crazy Rocco!”

“Keep it down Klaps, the humans have a short haired wolf living with them. He’s not the friendliest towards strange coons,” I warn him.

Klaps ignores my warning, “Brox told me what you are doing here. The clan thought you had gone missing or that you were run over by one of the humans’ fast rolling machines,” Klaps continued to shout at me. “This is worse Rocco. I had to see it for my own eyes before I told Snikt and the rest of the clan that you have been living here with the humans we are supposed to be…”

Klaps is cut off midsentence by a loud barking coming from behind him. An instant later Frigo, the humans’ black short haired wolf, comes crashing through the bush behind where Brox and Klaps are standing. All three of us coons try to evade him as he sprints toward us with his jaws wide open. Me being the farthest away makes a clean get away. Brox also escapes Frigo’s fury. Then I hear a muffled crunching noise and Klaps cry out in pain.

When I turn my head back around, I see Brox running head first past me. He’s too afraid for his own life to turn and see what is happening to Klaps. Past Brox I see Frigo with his head down, fir and blood hanging out of his mouth. He’s snarling at Klaps just a few feet in front of him. Klaps is still moving, thank goodness.

I waste no time in trying to get Klaps away from Frigo’s wrath. Sprinting to get between the two of them I feel an immense amount of fear. The only reason I’m not running away with Brox is because that fear is overpowered by a need to save Klaps from his impending doom.

I reach Klaps and put my tiny body in front of him laying down in the snow bleeding from his fresh wound. Up until this point Frigo had kept his distance from me. He made it clear he didn’t want me in his den, but he never snapped at me. Tonight, was different. Tonight, Frigo had the taste of blood in his mouth and he wasn’t backing down. As I’m standing in between Frigo and his prey with my arms stretched out wide I heard Frigo lunge toward me. I think I’m going to end up in his jaws.

“Down Frigo! Down!” I hear Tilly yell as she jumps in front of me. She’s barefoot in the snow wearing her pajamas and holding Frigo by his collar. She must have heard all the commotion and leapt out of her bed room window just in time to save me.

I look up at her with my mouth wide open in amazement. She is standing there towering above me with the lights from her den illuminating all the huge flakes of snow falling around her. She is a force to be reckoned with tonight. “Tilly, my hero” I think to myself, “you saved me!”

Tilly swings her head around at me and gives me a look of distress. Tilly may be much bigger than me, but she’s struggling to keep Frigo under control as he barks in anger. I run towards Klaps to try and bring him to safety, but Tilly stops me, “leave him. Run inside Rocco. Go!” she commands me. I’m not a fan of leaving Klaps there in the cold bleeding, but I trust Tilly.

I jump inside her bedroom window that is still open, putting distance from myself and the furious canine. More than my first night of gathering food in the woods, my heart is practically pounding out of my chest. I contemplate getting up on Tilly’s bed for a better view of the what’s going on outside when all the sudden the bedroom door comes swinging open.

“Tilly what’s going on!? Are you ok?” It is Tilly’s father, the one they call Frank. He is one of two humans that are never supposed to see me in this house.

“Sweetie, is everything alright in here?” And that is Ruthanne, Tilly’s mother. She is the other human that is never supposed to see me in this house.

Both of Tilly’s parents are standing in her bedroom doorway staring at me laying on Tilly’s bedroom floor. The bedroom window is wide open. The snow that was at my feet outside had followed me in to the bedroom and is laying all around me. Her dad reacts almost immediately.

Frank grabs a blanket from Tilly’s bed and uses it as a makeshift net by throwing it over top of me. I panic by flailing around inside the dark blanket, but it is no use. Frank is too strong. He picks me up and carries me away without hesitation. I am unable to see anything, but I do recognize the sounds surrounding me. I know Frank is taking me out of Tilly’s bedroom, through the living room, and out to a colder part of the house. This colder part of the house is where Tilly’s family stores their fast rolling machines. I think they call them cars.

Frank takes me to a corner of this cold car storage room. He picks something up and it makes a metallic racket. Next thing I know I’m being shoved inside. “Stay in here until we can figure out what to do with you little guy,” Frank says to me. He sounds like Tilly, but with a little less compassion in his voice.

Once I hear Frank leave the room, I struggle to make my way out of the blanket. It takes a few minutes, but eventually I poke my head out to find I’m in a metal cage. Frank has imprisoned me with nothing more than a blanket to keep warm.

TB box trap
Rocco in the Box Trap

– Part 5 – The Jig is Up

Sound asleep in my cozy bed, just a few days before Christmas, I’m dreaming of introducing my family to my little raccoon friend. They accept him in to our home as a real pet. It is a pleasant dream. Then I hear barking coming from outside my window. Wait, that isn’t part of my dream.

Snapping to attention and out of my dream, I quickly pull back the covers of my bed. The barking continues outside. I have to go see what Frigo is barking, so I set both my bare feet on the hardwood floor. No need to check on Rocco or if he is still asleep in my bed, something tells me he might have something to do with all this racket.

I see my bedroom window is already cracked open, that explains the cool breeze I felt. Looking out the window I see Frigo biting into a small racoon laying in the snow. My heart drops. Frigo our dog has bitten little Rocco on the leg! But then I see another racoon running towards the wounded coon in the snow. I recognize him, the one running towards Frigo is Rocco.

I push open my window and jump out in to the snow. If Rocco is trying to help his little friend from being torn apart from Frigo he’s going to need my help. Acting fast, I grab Frigo by the collar and hold him back.

I see Rocco running towards the injured coon. “Leave him. Run inside Rocco. Go!” I tell Rocco for his own safety. I watch Rocco jump back inside through my bedroom window. Now I only need to worry about the injured raccoon in front of me.

Frigo is normally a good dog. It’s only when he thinks our family is in danger, he gets riled up like he is tonight. He must have heard all these little raccoons snooping around the house and come outside through his doggy door.

The snow is cold on my bare feet, but I kneel down next to Frigo to give him a hug and calm him down. It works. He doesn’t take his eye off the injured raccoon, but he stops barking and I feel his muscles relax a bit. I let go of Frigo’s collar to attend to the injured coon.

This little fragile coon about the same size as Rocco is lying in the snow out cold. I kneel down to him to see if he is still alive. I see the fur on his chest is heaving back and forth so he must be berating. Keeping Frigo back, I carefully scoop up the injured raccoon. The best way I could think to carry him was a bit odd. Using my shirt, I grabbed the bottom front of it and pulled up towards my face, making a large makeshift pocket in front of my abdomen. I placed the injured coon in there so I wouldn’t accidentally drop him.

Heading inside through my bedroom window and through to the living room, I see my mother standing in the doorway to the garage. Dad comes up the garage steps with a puzzled look on his face. I waste no time and beg them to take me to the Veterinarian Hospital in town.

TB vet
Klaps at the Veterinarian’s Office

Normally Dad and Mom aren’t ones to spend money on wild animals’ veterinarian bills. However, my pleading got through to them and we take a car ride to the vet. My guess is they feel extra caring, because it was so close to the Christmas time, and they know how much I care for all animals.

The veterinarian takes the little injured raccoon in and stitches him up. He says the coon must stay there overnight and we should be able to pick him up in the morning. I’m glad the little raccoon is going to be alright.

Our family always seems to have our best conversations in the car, so on the car ride home from the vet Dad asks me why he found a different raccoon laying on my bedroom floor. It is clear the jig is up, and I decide to come clean to mom and dad. I tell them about the night I met Rocco and how he has been living in my room for the past couple of days.

“Honey, I know you care about animals, but you can’t just bring a wild creature in to our house, much less in to your bed,” dad lectures me.

“Now your sheets need to be cleaned for sure,” mom complains.

“He’s not filthy mom. I washed Rocco in the bathtub plenty of times,” I told her. But that seemed to just gross her out even more. “And dad, I know keeping him from you both was wrong, but technically I didn’t bring him in to the house. I found Rocco inside. I’m pretty sure he used the doggy door.”

“You know what I mean Tilly,” dad said. “I love that you care about animals, but we have to set some boundaries. No more wild animals in the house. Also, I don’t care what injured creature you find next, I’m not forking over my money for another vet bill unless it is for our own pets. I can’t believe I paid for this bill as it is.” Dad can get fired up over paying bills pretty easily.

Dad continues, “Tonight your little friend Rocco is staying in the garage. I put a blanket in there for him to stay warm. He will survive.”

When we all got home from the vet I just go to bed without another word. I think about going out to the garage. Sleeping with Rocco would be nice again, but I feel I have already disappointed mom and dad enough for one night.

The next morning, I am awoken by dad knocking on my bedroom door. “Tilly, your mom and I went and picked up your hurt raccoon from the vet. I didn’t know if you wanted to say goodbye to him and the one in our garage. We are letting them go soon.”

I walk outside with my parents to let the two raccoons go. Rocco looks at me with anticipation. I don’t think he knows what is going on, but I gesture to the woods as if to say, “go back.” My gesture and the fact that my parents are standing behind me seem to give Rocco the idea to go back with the other coons.

“Has anyone seen Frigo this morning?” my mom asks, and no one had.

“Last I saw him was last night right after he bit the little raccoon,” I said.

“Frigo! Come here boy. Where are you?” my dad calls out.

I notice all the noise catches the attention of Rocco and his little friend. I’m pretty sure Rocco can recognize the name Frigo. He might even know that we are looking for him. That’s when Rocco temporarily leaves his friend’s side to come and hug my ankle. It feels like a goodbye. Then Rocco runs back to help the limping raccoon. Now, instead of slowly making their way back to the woods, Rocco is at it with a hurried pace.

TB snikt

Part 6 – Whiskers Held High

It is cold in here, it smells like oil, and this cage is too cramped. I’m glad Tilly’s father left me this blanket. It is so cold in here that without it I might freeze to death. There is one upside to my situation, being trapped in a cage all night really gives a coon time to think and reflect.

I know I like Tilly but being away from all my friends in the woods, not to mention my own mother, has gotten to me. I miss them all. In just a few short days living with Tilly has caused all this strife among both our families. Poor Klaps is injured, Tilly’s parents have imprisoned me, and I’m sure Tilly is in some sort of trouble.

Maybe it is time for me to go back to the woods. Maybe this life of soft nests, warm cuddles, and endless peanut butter cookies is too good to be true. I doubt such a misbehaved coon like me even deserves such a life of luxury. When… no, IF I ever get out of this cage, I should probably just go back to the woods and pretend none of this ever happened. Hopefully Brox doesn’t blame me for Klaps’ injury and maybe by some miracle Snikt will accept me back into the clan. Who am I to try and live a different life? I will just go back to scavenging for food like the rest of the gatherers.

All of the sudden, I hear human voices again. Those deep baritone sounds only come from Tilly’s dad. Next the garage door swings open and I feel the air pressure in this cold concrete room change. The lights appear over my head, they are blinding after all this time in the dark.

“Time to go home little fella, back to where you belong,” I hear Tilly’s father say. He lifts my cage up and carries me outside to the short grass. “Now stay still buddy while I open the box trap.”

The edge of my cage makes a terrible creaking noise and an opening appears for me to escape through. I quickly make it past the edges of the cage. No chance I’m going back inside that awful contraption he calls a “box trap.” Then I see Tilly standing nearby. She’s holding Klaps. He’s alive!

Last I saw Klaps we were getting in an argument but seeing him now I am filled with joy to see he is alright.

“Has anyone seen Frigo this morning?” Tilly’s mom asks out of the blue.

“Last I saw him was last night right after he bit the little raccoon,” Tilly responded.

“Frigo! Come here boy. Where are you?” Tilly’s father bellows.

Frigo, the humans’ short haired wolf must be missing. If he chased after Brox last night, there is a chance he found the clan! There’s no time to waste. I must get back to the clan before Frigo does any damage.

There is no telling what calamity awaits me back in the woods. My inevitable doom may even come today, but I am no coward. Tilly’s act of bravery last night, saving me from Frigo’s jaws, has shown me what makes a true hero. I will face today with my whiskers held high, but first I must say goodbye.

“I’ll return in just a moment Klaps,” I tell my injured friend. I leave his side just for a moment so I can embrace Tilly’s leg. Tears form in my eyes. I don’t know how long that embrace lasted, but it feels like one of the most meaningful gestures of my entire life. “Goodbye Tilly,” I think to myself. Then I make my way for the woods.

– –

Klaps is exhausted and I’m not much better off. We reach the outskirts of our clan’s home and I hear a commotion coming from over the hill. Breathing hard, my chest heaving from our haste, I take Klaps arm off my shoulders so I can get a better look.

“Wait here Klaps. I’m going to scout things out,” I assure him.

My paws fall silently on the moss-covered boulder so I can observe the situation without being discovered. I pop my head over and see Brox cowering by his mother among the crowd of our raccoon clan. They are all facing Snikt. He’s standing on top of an old tree trunk as if he’s about to give a speech. A few yards behind Snikt I see a large patch of wet mud. It appears something is moving inside, something big. I reposition myself to get a closer look. It’s Frigo! Just then, Snikt begins to speak.

“Fear not my fellow coons. The danger is over,” Snikt bellows to the rest of the clan. “The intruder has been subdued. With the help of the brave gatherers I was able to trap the short haired wolf in the sludge of the natural spring behind me.”

The pit is from the spring water and somehow Snikt had trapped Frigo inside.

“I have decided the vicious intruder should be put to death,” Snikt declares. “For if he should be left alive and set free, he would draw more short haired wolves and their humans to our clan.”

I hear gasps coming from the rest of the clan. It seems most of them aren’t totally on board with Snikt’s decision, and neither am I. Knowing full well that no one else will stand up to Snikt, I charge down the small hill I’ve been hiding behind.

“We can’t kill Frigo!” I yell to the clan. “He may be intimidating, but he’s merely protecting his own clan. ” My words startle the crowd below.

Among the other coons, my mother turns toward me. Her face is slightly confused, but mostly she looks relieved to see I’m alright. I see Brox in the crowd, and he looks just as relieved as my mother. The only face in the crowd not happy to see me is it’s patriarch, Snikt.

“Who are you to make declarations?” Snikt questions. “We thought you were dead but come to find you’ve abandoned our clan for half a fortnight to live amongst the humans. How are we to trust your judgement? How are we to know you haven’t been put under one of their spells?”

“You can question my character all you want Snikt,” I reply, “but I will not do the same in return. I propose only that we do not murder the helpless creature you have imprisoned.” I point my paw over to the shivering scared canine behind Snikt. “You suggest we commit cold blooded murder, but our clan is more than that. We are better than that!”

The crowd gives sounds of approval. Among them is Brox, “Mercy!” He screams. His display of courage brings a brief smile to my face.

“I have befriended a young human named Tilly,” I continue. Just last night she protected me from the very same short haired wolf that is behind you now. His name is Frigo, and he was only going to attack because Klaps was spying on the humans and myself. Frigo only acts out of protection.”

“We heard of this vicious attack,” Snikt barks in anger. “Brox told us how he killed poor Klaps!”

No sooner did Snikt speak of his demise when Klaps himself came limping over the hill behind me. Klaps’ mother and the rest of his family cried with delight at the sight of their son.

I speak again to the crowd, “No one was killed last night. Frigo’s bite was not deadly, but that of a warning. Although his human clan is to be respected, they are not bloodthirsty. Mercy is what we should show our prisoner. Peace is what we should make with the human clan.” The combination of my words and the sight of Klaps ignited the crowd in cheers of approval.

“ENOUGH!” Snikt roared as he leapt from his tree stump stage. “The humans and their short haired wolf are not to be trusted! I will kill the beast and be done with this!” His face is filled with his familiar look of pain and fear.

Snikt runs for the mud patch where Frigo is imprisoned. He’s caring a wooden spear in his right paw. The crowd begins to gasp in disbelief. I move as quickly as I can toward Snikt. I try and draw upon the bravery I’ve been displaying ever since I left Tilly’s hug early this morning. I’ll need it if I am going to stop the largest and most seasoned gatherer in our clan. By all rational understanding, I am no match for Snikt.

I race down the hill I’ve been standing on for the encounter so far. My paws are running as fast as they can possibly go. I speed through the crowd toward Snikt, but he is very fast. I fear there is no way I can catch him in time. That is when I notice I am not the only coon in pursuit of Snikt.

It isn’t Snikt’s loyal gatherers chasing after him. No, it is the clan mothers. All of them are running past me, quickly catching up to Snikt. The looks on their faces are fierce and determined. Their speed is frightening. At the head of the clan mothers is Klaps mother, Brox mother, and my own mom.

Snikt is still out ahead of the mothers chasing him. He stops running on all fours and stands up on his hind legs. Snikt reaches Frigo who is still shivering and whining in pain and fear. He pulls back his right paw with his wooden spear in hand, intending on ending the helpless canine’s life.

All three of our mothers reach Snikt just before he plunges his wooden spear into Frigo’s flesh. They tackle our fearful leader down in to the snow on the ground. It is an amazing act of heroism to see.

My mother has a hold of Snikt’s left hind leg, Brox’s mother has hold of his right hind leg, and Klaps’ mom has Snikt pinned in a full mount position. All of our moms look angry, but Klaps’ mom is practically breathing fire at this point. She pins Snikt’s arms to the ground and snaps his wooden spear in half.

“Let go of me right now!” Snikt screams in protest as he struggles in the snow. But the mothers aren’t letting up. They are strong and no longer listen to his fear fueled words. Instead, the mothers start freeing Frigo from the cold mud he is trapped in currently.

I look at my mom with so much pride. I had no idea she could be so heroic!

Part 7 – Goodbye for Now


Snikt’s reign as leader of our clan is officially over. The clan mothers made it happen and now they as a collective are stepping up to make decisions for our future. Instead of one coon making all the decisions, they decide what is best for all of us. It seems to be a change for the better. The Council of Mothers’ first decision was to be merciful to Snikt. Instead of voting to exile him from the clan, they let him stay with us.

I take it upon myself to escort Frigo back to the human clan. He’s shaken up, but there are no serious injuries from his time in the mud pit. I know Tilly and her parents will be able to warm him up and have him back good as new in no time.

While Frigo and I walk back to the human’s log den, I don’t feel the same resentment from him that I did before. Maybe he is too cold and tired, but I like to think he’s softened up to me for another reason. I like to think he’s found a deeper respect for me and for all raccoons.

Frigo and I make it to the tree line and continue on to the short grass surrounding the humans’ den. This is as close to the humans as I plan to go, at least for today. Frigo saunters on past me. He’s eager to see his beloved humans.

The short haired wolf stops for just a brief moment and turns his head back towards me. “Thank you for saving me Rocco,” he mutters in common Woodspeak. Then he continues his trek to the humans’ den.

My jaw dropped open just slightly in disbelief. All this time Frigo hadn’t said a word to me. I just assumed he had been too domesticated to speak with us wild folk. “No problem,” I offer in reply as I watch him make his way back through his small plastic flap opening the humans call a doggy door.

It doesn’t take long after Frigo enters the human den for the sounds of exaltation and relief to be heard from within. It still puzzles me why these humans love that short haired wolf so much. Another moment passes and I see Tilly peer outside from the window. She spots me.

Tilly makes her way outside and to the tree line where I’m waiting. “Hey Rocco! I’m so glad you are ok,” she says to me. “I don’t know what all happened but thank you for bringing Frigo home to us. Tomorrow’s Christmas and it wouldn’t be the same without our Frigo.”

I have no idea what Christmas is, but in reply I climb up her pants leg and in to her arms. We exchange a hug. Tilly pets me and makes me feel loved again. “I’m going to miss this,” I think to myself. Then Tilly pulls out a peanut butter cookie from her pocket. I gobble it up with excitement. I’m also going to miss those cookies!

“Enjoy that cookie. Dad says I’m not allowed to give any more of them to woodland critters,” she says. “I’ll miss you Rocco.”

Both Tilly and I shed a few tears. We both know this is goodbye… for now.

A special thanks to my girlfriend Shannon for coloring all of my illustrations for this story.


Amolika: Prologue

The Adventures of Amolika Mangal


by Zeb Carbaugh

The street lights failed to illuminate the neighborhood. Their glow was drowned out by the fiercely cold autumn rain. The storm muffled nearly all sound, not that there was much to hear at 3AM. I was in my element.

Just home from the late shift, I sparked a joint, poured a glass of scotch, and settled in to wash off the daily woes of a dead-end job. My hair was still damp from my nightly hot shower as I took the first sip of Glenlivet 12. The thought of anyone awake at that hour never entered my mind.

The TV had just turned on when I heard a loud knock at the door  and I jumped out of my recliner. Microwave dinner spilled all over the carpet. Even the gold fish I had won two years ago at a county fair stirred in his cramped fishbowl. I answered the door with a freshly microwaved Lean Cuisine stain on my Pajamas.

On the other side of the door I saw a short middle-aged man wearing a cheap white uniform with “Streetmen Special Delivery Service” embroidered in green on his lapel. He was soaking wet but still managed to keep up his professional façade with a smile peering through the rain on his face.

This thin delivery man spoke to me with a bit of a shiver, “Good evening sir. I need your John Hancock at the bottom of this form here.”

Tensions are always high when interacting with people in the dead of night, but his clip board was the same color of his uniform embroidery. It indicated he was with a legit delivery service or at the very least that he was dedicated to his method of deceit. Still a bit uneasy and suspicious as I signed the form, I asked, “Who’s it from?”

“It looks like the package is from Turkey and there’s just one name. It reads ‘Amolika’ which is a Hindu name I believe.” He seemed well educated. Had the package been sent from anyone else I might have picked his brain a bit more.

Excited, I handed the delivery man back his matching clip board and took the package from his grasp. “Thanks a-million,” I replied awkwardly and quickly shut the door. I hadn’t heard from my old friend in years. How she even got my current address was beyond me. In an age where everything is sent digitally, I knew this was by far the most interesting thing ever to be sent to me in the mail and I hadn’t even opened it yet.

 The return address read “Harran Üniversitesi Osmanbey Kampüsü, Merkez Mahallesi, Şanlıurfa Mardin Yolu, 63000 Haliliye/Şanlıurfa, Turkey.” The only thing I understood was that it from a University in Turkey. Amolika signed her name in black ink and drew a small symmetrical heart next to it.

My apartment’s filled with hunting knives, so I grabbed the closest one to me. It was an 11-inch bowie knife with a handle made of elk antler. It was a bit overkill to open a cardboard package with a Crocodile Dundee knife, but I was too excited to take the time and find a pair of scissors.

I started to piece together a mental picture of my old friend Amolika as I opened her mysterious parcel. Her eyes were a darker shade of brown than her skin. It made the whites of her eyes stand out through her thick black curly locks. Her hair had so much bounce to it that her curls always reminded me of giant springs dangling from her head. She stood at about 5 feet 8 inches (or 1.7 meters as she always corrected my measurements to the metric system). Compared to most women I’ve met, she dressed quite simplistic, but she certainly wasn’t devoid of her own unique style. She usually wore an older style of wireframe eyeglasses. They were the subject of my curiosity on more than one occasion when I was in her presence. My mind had formed a complete picture of her from memory by the time I had unfurled the contents of her package.

Upon opening the cardboard box, I noticed there was a note written on an unfamiliar thick form of paper. The note was covering the other contents of the package. She wrote in her natural chicken scratch handwriting with black ink:

“Dear Chuck,

It has been a long time since we last saw each other in France, but I have a favor to ask of you. Keep the contents of this parcel safe, read my journal, and wait for me to arrive at your door. I hope to see you soon

Thanks a million,


P.S. If I don’t show up within the year, publish the contents of the journal online for the world to see.”

The note piqued my interest even more. Upon further inspection I found a large leather-bound journal with two gold letters “NM” pressed in to the cover. As I took it out of the box I noticed it was heavier than I expected. To the right of where the journal had been, laid a cylindrical light gray rock about the size of an ear of corn. It too was heavy and had many strange engravings covering it. The one tip of the rock had a carving of a man’s face pointing straight out. He looked stern and it creeped me out a bit. This package was the coolest thing in my apartment and it had only been inside for a few moments.

Setting the package and its contents down on my coffee table, I took a step back to process what had just happened. Whether it was the late-night booze or the spliff that was still burning on my ash tray, my mind started to doubt any of this was even real.

I took one of the largest gulps of scotch I have ever taken in my life and picked up Amolika’s leather journal. This time, with the intention to begin reading, I lifted the journal at an angle. A photograph slipped out from behind the front cover and landed face up on my lap. I recognized it instantly. Staring up at me were the faces of all my dearest friends from my time at the Collège International de Cannes, including Amolika’s and my own. A wave of nostalgia passed over me. Then, at 3AM covered in my pathetic excuse for a dinner and in the middle of a downpour, I began to read.